The 1st Month with a Newborn: Life Review

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For me this past month with baby Max has been harder than any point during my pregnancy…. Giving birth was nothing compared to the first two weeks of having him out in the world – it was the transition from pregnant to parent – from ME to US.

And it was deceivingly blissful the first day or so.  The afternoon we brought Max home, I was pretty “high” on the baby hormones – which allowed me to stay awake and breastfeed him regularly with seeming success.  But by the next morning, I could feel the beginning of my body’s process of recovery from the birth – I was extremely sore in my arms, shoulders, legs, and the back of my head from gripping and pushing myself against the sides of the birth tub. My nether region was pretty sore too – I never in my life expected to be grateful that adult diapers exist – although I suppose there will be a time for that in later days again.  I took a small amount of ibuprofen for the first couple of days, mostly to ease myself into the moderate pain of recovery.

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I wasn’t expecting Max to be so sleepy – he slept a ton those first few days!  It was challenging to wake him up for feeding every 2 hours, but I set my alarm to make sure he was getting plenty of that early colostrum.  On the other hand, I was getting very little sleep – this being my first child, I was consistently awoken in the night by the inherent need to reach over and check if he was still breathing (a newborn’s breathing is sooo shallow when they sleep).  At this point, Max was sleeping in the Dockatot, in the middle of Cam and I (apparently Cam was up all night checking on him too).

My milk came in by day 3, and boy did it come in.  My breasts were so swollen and were starting to get hard lumps that freaked me out a little bit (I’d read about the likeliness of getting mastitis, so I was on the lookout).  My insurance company hadn’t sent my breast pump yet, which was actually cool, because I was reluctant to use anything that may cause my body confusion when it came to milk production.  So I started hand expressing into breast milk bags, which worked great and really wasn’t that hard to do (although it should be noted that hand expression does NOT reduce the pressure right away, it takes a little while after you’ve finished before the breast softens). **I have to admit, the idea of breastfeeding and having to hand express my milk was one of the things that sort of grossed me out mentally when I was pregnant – but it really was much easier to do than I had expected – which says something about expectations**  Also leaking became a regular experience throughout the day (that gets better too ladies, by the end of the first month it rarely happens).

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Home remedy for jaundice – breastfeeding in indirect sunlight

Max was eating well.  By our day 3 pediatric appointment, he had only lost 4 oz of weight, and when we came in at the end of that week, he had gained back another 4 oz over his birth weight.  He did start to develop a little bit of jaundice, which left him with a yellow tint, but his bilirubin levels weren’t high enough to warrant any treatment other than spending a little time in some indirect sunlight (we breastfed outside and napped in a brightly lit room).  The jaundice had decreased a lot by a week and a half, and was completely gone by the end of 3 weeks.

I had read so much about breastfeeding – and the one thing that I had absorbed that ended up causing the most anxiety was this idea that “if breastfeeding hurts, you’re doing it wrong”.  This idea requires some clarification, from my perspective… “If this is your first baby, breastfeeding will hurt a bit for the first couple weeks or so while your nipples adapt – it may hurt quite a lot when the baby latches on- don’t let that freak you out, it will pass – in the meantime, put breast milk on any cracks or scabs, use coconut oil also – it helps a lot.  If the pain continues, get a lactation consultant to help – otherwise, if baby is gaining weight properly and the pain is decreasing over time, don’t worry so much about whether or not you have the perfect latch – you’ll get better and better at it, and soon it will not hurt at all”.

After the first few days – Max started to wake up a bit to the world around him, and for him (and me) it was a tough transition.  He had bouts of crying that made a moment feel like an eternity – and for seemingly no reason, as he’d fed to his heart’s content, had a clean diaper, and didn’t have a fever or any other obvious discomfort.  We thought maybe he was having some problems with gas, but we would burp him and

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A happy moment, the smiles that come from gas relief.

not get any results – we even tried Gripe water a few times, which had minimal results.  Just when we were about to declare the dreaded word “colic” – Cam and I stumbled across a video from a pediatric chiropractor that showed different ways to burp a baby… explaining the cycle of discomfort/feed/discomfort/feed that occurs if you don’t burp a baby properly within 20 minutes of them eating.  Max responded really well to rotating through different burping methods until we definitely got a burp each time he fed – which made us both feel pretty good that we could give him some relief.

Over and over, the midwives told me to “sleep when the baby sleeps” – but after the first week, I started trying to get some work done while he was sleeping.  At this point, it would take about an hour or so of rocking and dancing (he friggin’ loves Yacht Rock music and 80’s UK pop – and yes I have tried other music) to get him to go to sleep.  Then he would sleep a couple of hours or so and wake up, feed, repeat.   I found out quickly that I was trying to do too much too soon, my bleeding returned and I resolved myself to keep the physical work to a minimum until I got to my three week checkup.

Throughout this time, Max really didn’t like any of the “baby things” we’d got for him – not the swing, or the bouncy chair, or the Ergo baby wrap (or the 2 other baby wraps I got him) – the only thing he would not scream in was the Dockatot – which was a lifesaver – we were co-sleeping and this thing made it so easy to adjust his position without waking him up.  He mostly just wanted to be in our arms whenever he was awake.

I had moments during this month where I needed to cry, mostly in the early days when I was so sleep deprived and holding a baby that was just wailing and wailing.  Cam and I both had moments where we were short-tempered with each other – but we discovered together that this mostly had to do with us not communicating our expectations and frustrations with each other (we’ve learned that communication is always at the root of the problem).

By the end of the month, I’ve found my groove/flow within and as a parent – I keep reminding myself “His needs come before my preferences” – which helps me realize/remind myself of the commitment I made when I decided to have Max – and that I would do whatever it takes so that he’s happy and healthy (because that makes me happy)

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My Natural, Unmedicated, and Virtually Pain-free Childbirth: Part 2

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As promised – here’s the story of my natural, unmedicated, and virtually pain free birth of my first born, sweet baby boy Maximus (Max for short).

My midwife told me at around 38 weeks that the baby was welcome to come any day now – so I started feeling a bit anxious for him to come.  I recognized that I was a bit fearful that he would not come in time and that I would have to be induced, so I spent every day from 38 weeks focused on supporting myself to face and let go of that fear.  Through this process, and by going to that worst case scenario in my mind of “what would happen if I was induced?” etc… I discovered a lot of research showing that babies tend to do a bit better at adapting to the world when they are born closer to 40 weeks rather than earlier.  My prenatal chiropractor also confirmed with his anecdotal evidence, that his patients whose babies were born on time or late had less complications – which was interesting to hear.  So, by 40 weeks, the anxiety was gone and I was happy that the baby was taking his time and allowing himself to develop inside me so that he would be stronger for the birth.

By this point, I had been having very minor Braxton Hicks contractions in the evening (which just felt like a tightening across my lower pelvic area) – also some sharp stabbing pains in my pelvic area, which I attribute to my uterus softening/ripening from all of the raspberry tea and other things I was taking – But nothing that indicated to me that I would be going into labor any time soon.

On the morning of Monday, October 24th 2016, at 5:30am (40 weeks +3 days)- I started having contractions.  I had stayed up most of the night and only got a few hours of sleep, but I woke up with a feeling of pressure across my lower pelvic area.  I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening at first, the contractions were not painful, but felt like an intense wave of pressure that started very light and got progressively more intense to the point where I had to hold onto something and stay still when they peaked.  **I looked up “what do contractions feel like” so many times – and I really think the most accurate description for me was that they were similar to what a period feels like on a heavy day, just with more pressure and intensity** I also sort of felt like I need to use the toilet often, so I just kept going into the bathroom and sitting on the toilet during a contraction, and holding onto the walls and the windowsill while the contraction peaked.

By about 6:30am, it was clear to me that these were definitely contractions (they felt very different to anything I had experienced thus far during the pregnancy).  My husband, Cam, was still sleeping in our bedroom, but I decided to let him sleep until 7am just in case we were going to have a long day of labor.  We just happened to have an appointment at 9am at the birth center and we needed to leave by 8am to drive the hour to get there.  So I spent the time between 6:30am and 7am timing my contractions on an app on my phone.  By 7am, my contractions were 3-5 minutes apart and lasted about 30-45 seconds.

Cam woke up at 7am and I told him I thought I was having contractions.  He started packing up the car, and I called our doula to ask her advice on whether we should be going to the birth center for our appointment when it was so early in the labor process.  The doula told me to try taking a warm bath before we left, and if the contractions stopped then I was not actually in labor.  I took a 3o minute bath or so, and by the time it was done, my contractions were 3-5 minutes apart and lasting 1 minute.  I called the doula back, and she said it sounded like I was in real labor, as I couldn’t really talk through the contractions.

I called the birth center and let them know I might be going into labor, and they told me to come on in for my appointment time.  Cam was pretty excited, and although my contractions were coming really quickly, I thought that my labor was probably pretty far off, so we took our time getting to the birth center – we even stopped at Jamba Juice to get a smoothie before we got on the highway.  I put on my HypnoBabies Cd’s on my phone, and just listened and breathed through the contractions as Cam focused on driving the hour long drive to the birth center.

When we finally arrived, we were taken into a room and one of the technicians asked me a bunch of questions – which I couldn’t really answer for her during the contractions, later they told me they were certain by my face that I was definitely in labor –  and then had me go get a urine sample.  I had my bloody show in that moment in the bathroom – which was perfect, because it meant things were moving along.

My midwife came into the room, gave me an exam, and then called out to her staff “get the room ready, we’re having a baby! – you’re 7-8cm dialated, 100% effaced, and we’re gonna have this baby before lunchtime.”  Cam and I were both a bit shocked, it was only 10am at that point, we couldn’t believe everything was happening so quickly.  We went into one of the birthing rooms, and I got undressed while the birthing team filled up the tub with warm water.  The tub felt fantastic, and I just leaned over the side of the tub and held onto Cam’s legs and arms while the contractions came quicker and quicker.

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Cam talking me through a contraction

Then my doula showed up and started encouraging me to make deep moaning sounds through the contractions (up to that point I had been mostly silent and holding my breath a bit through them).  This is the point where things started to really shift for me – the moaning seemed to encourage the contractions to come on stronger in intensity – but they really weren’t painful, just a feeling of intense pressure.  In the breaks between the contractions, Cam and my doula were making sure I was getting plenty of water, and my midwife was rubbing some really nice smelling essential oils on my scalp and on my pressure points. The other midwife was checking me every now and then for me and the baby’s heartbeat – but it never felt invasive, I was grateful for everyone taking on their roles so I could focus on breathing and not tensing up through the contractions.

By 12pm, the midwives said I was fully dialated and was ready to push.  Now – pushing was really interesting – it was NOT painful, but it was very intense work – imagine if you were trying to climb the side of a cliff, each time you wanted to move up a bit, you had to focus all of your physical strength on shifting your weight and swinging your arm up to reach for the next hold, and then shifting your body weight up, and repeat again and again – this is how I would describe pushing – it wasn’t painful, but it required all of my physical ability to be focused for that minute or so that I was pushing, and then I would have a moment where I could relax.  I also really embraced the moaning and making noise that my doula was encouraging, and when I would instead make a sort of high pitched noise, she would remind me to keep my tone low, which helped me from getting too tense.

At the time, I was sort of between consciousness and a more introverted place, I was aware of all of the people in the room and what they were asking me to do, but I was also very focused within myself on what was happening with my body.  Something that I kept saying to myself over and over in my head was that “I can do this” – especially in those moments when I couldn’t really feel that I was making any progress (it is hard to feel that the baby is moving down much, until right before they come out – so I can see why many women may get discouraged during this time).  My midwives were fantastic during this time – even though I told them I was tired, they kept telling me that it wouldn’t be long and to try three big pushes and releases for each contraction, and really encouraged me the whole time.

When they started to see the head, they explained to me that now I was going to start pushing and that when they said hold it, I was to hold the pressure instead of pushing further – and that this would keep my perineum from tearing.  I did exactly what they told me to do.  At this point, my water broke fully (it had been sort of leaking slowly before). This was when I started to “feel” the baby coming out as something other than just the pressure from the contractions.  I felt the momentary burning when the baby’s head came out (which was the only point where I could describe as painful, but again it really wasn’t a serious pain), and then in two more pushes, the rest of his body was out.

Cam caught our baby boy Max at 1:04pm – just 7 & 1/2 hours from the start of contractions.

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The midwives immediately put Max on my chest, and he came out looking a bit purple/grey, but he was completely healthy and started crying right away.  He had an Apgar score was 8.  I had no tears, just a slight “skidmark”.  We stayed in the tub together while the midwives gave me some black & blue cohosh and injected me with pitocin (after labor) to get the placenta to come out – which it did within 20 or so minutes. They also gave me a little bit of ibuprofen just in case – which I agreed to even though I didn’t feel any pain.  After a little while longer, the birth team wrapped up the placenta in a bag and wrapped Max in a towel and gave him to Cam to hold while they helped clean me up and move me over to the bed.

I kept saying to everyone “WOW – I can’t believe how well that went! – That was easy!” while I snuggled little Max and got him to breastfeed for the first time.  I felt fantastic – all of my tiredness from the labor and from not sleeping was momentarily gone, I was so happy that Max’s labor went smoothly and that he was healthy and happy.  I had a little bit of lunch to get my energy up, and gave Cam a turn to snuggle Max.  After a while, the birth team asked if it was alright with us if they weighed and measured the baby and checked him over – we agreed, and they did all of this on the bed. Cam cut the umbilical cord (which had stopped pulsing a long time ago) and put a onesie on him so we could get ready to go home.

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The only issue I had was right about at this time – while we were getting ready to go home, I started to feel a bit faint, and the midwives tested my blood pressure and it was a bit high.  I have a theory that this may be because of the pitocin and the ibuprofen – I did not take any drugs/meds during my pregnancy, so I think my body had a little bit of a reaction to these.  So my midwife got me to get up and go to the bathroom to try to urinate – and this was the hardest part of the whole labor (although nothing I couldn’t handle), it burned a bit and I had to hold onto one of the midwives because there was still a lot of pressure.

We stayed a bit longer at the birth center (maybe about an hour) just sitting in the bed and drinking a little juice and water until I felt well enough to leave – and we packed all of us up in the car and drove home.  We were all in our own bed by 5pm that same day!

I am so thankful and grateful that Cam and I decided to go for a natural unmedicated labor – it was nothing like what you see in the movies, it really was an amazing experience and I would do it again in a second!  I know that all of the work I put in to prepare myself, both physically and mentally, was the key to not only my success at natural labor, but the ease and quickness of the labor.

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Maximus Alexander: Born natural and drug free at 1:04pm on Oct 24th

My Natural, Unmedicated, and Virtually Pain-free Childbirth: Part 1

 

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When I got pregnant early this year (2016), I already had an idea that I wanted to attempt a natural, drug-free childbirth.  I’d seen the Business of Being Born documentary years ago, so I had some notion of the consequences of giving birth in a hospital setting.  However, I knew that on some level this documentary was a bit skewed towards natural childbirth, so I wanted to take the time to find out whether or not natural childbirth was practical and safe for me and the baby.

Something else that was important for me to realize was that, I definitely had a deep seated fear towards childbirth.  The image of a woman freaking out when her water breaks, screaming bloody murder while on the hospital bed, her husband fainting in the operating room, etc, etc, etc…. All of these pictures were burned in my brain from years and years of television and movies depicting birth.  Along with that – I hadn’t heard a single happy story of childbirth from anyone I knew personally – not my mother, who went through a grueling 14 hour labor with me before the doctors told her she would have to have a c-section – not any of my friends, one of whom went into labor very premature with preeclampsia, and ended up with a baby who was in the NICU for 4 weeks.

Honestly – these stories scared the sh*t out of me a bit – and although I did want to have a natural childbirth, there was a seed of doubt in the back of my mind saying “but what if something goes wrong”.

Now – I knew from all of my experiences over the past 6 or so years, that if there is something that I am afraid of, then that is often an opportunity for me to do something really amazing – something that will change my life and make me a stronger human being.  So I decided that I was going to go all in, and do everything I could to ensure that I would have a successful, natural, and unmedicated birth.

I also knew that 80% of accomplishing any goal is mindset, with the other 20% physical action and preparation.  So, I spent a lot of my time over the next 9 months investigating and uncovering every thought and idea I had in relation to childbirth – making sure that if a point of fear came up, or an image flashed in my mind that led me to worry about something – I addressed it immediately, looked at the practical reality of the fear, delving into the worst case scenarios, and forgiving myself for holding onto it.

So – to help with my mindset – I read EVERY natural birth story I could find online – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I watched EVERY childbirth video I could find on Youtube.  I listened to countless women share their experiences, many of whom had the intention of not getting an epidural, but gave up after many hours of painful labor. I read the entire “What to Expect When Your Expecting” book, as well as the “What to Expect in Year 1” book.  I absorbed all of the information I could find, and exposed myself to the worst case scenario so many times to see how I felt about it and what fears or worries came up for me.

Also, early in my pregnancy, I started listening to the Hypnobabies audios – I usually listened to them at night or when I was taking a nap during the day.  I really think these audios really supported me to program myself with tools that I could use during labor – and I do think this is partly why I was able to have a virtually pain-free labor (the Hypnobabies audios teach techniques on how to let go of the mental aspects of pain, and instead embrace the physicality of labor – which may sound hokey, but it friggin works).

I cannot recommend this process of mental-work before labor more to women considering a natural childbirth – I’ve seen so many cases of women who had the intention to give birth naturally, but did NOT do this work, and found themselves struggling when the day arrived to give birth.  I know fundamentally that this process of changing and strengthening my mindset, investigating my fears, and leaving no stone un-turned, was exactly why I was able to accomplish my goal (and go beyond even my own belief about my physical capabilities).

For the physical preparation – I firstly found a birthing center in my city that was separated from a hospital, and that did not offer any drugs during birth.  I wanted to put myself in a situation where I could not even have drugs as a thought/option during labor – removing the convenience (although I would be able to transfer to a hospital if any complication did occur).  The birthing center I chose was run by a CNM, who had previously worked as a labor nurse in a hospital labor ward for over 10 years, so it was a nice blend of a standard medical practice that had the goal of supporting moms to have a natural and drug free labor.  Along with choosing the birthing center, I hired a local doula to attend our birth – this was something I really debated doing, but I’m so glad that I did it, because she was immensely supportive for me and my husband during labor (she was focused on us, while the midwifes were focused on baby).

I also started doing certain things that I had investigated would be supportive for childbirth.  I took natural prenatal vitamins, prenatal probiotics, fish oil DHA, and drank a ton of water every day.  Later in my pregnancy I started taking Vitamin C (which is supposed to help strengthen the amniotic sac), alfalfa capsules, and drank red raspberry leaf tea (iced, extra strength).  I also ate dates every day during the last few weeks – which is supposed to help soften the cervix among other things.  I did a little walking and squats and sitting/stretching on a yoga ball on most days, but other than that I relaxed and didn’t over stress or do a lot of exercising.  I started seeing a chiropractor in my third trimester who used the Webster technique to help loosen and align my pelvis.  I took a lot of relaxing baths with epsom salt to ease the aches of pregnancy – sometimes nearly every night.

One last point I’d like to mention – during all of this preparation, I made sure to communicate with my husband and utilize our partnership to cross-reference myself – meaning if I had a fear or worry or felt emotional, I made sure to communicate that with him and hear his perspective.  This allowed him to be more involved in the pregnancy, preparing him for the baby’s arrival, and strengthened the intimacy of our relationship.

In the next blog, I’ll share the story of Max’s birth – natural, drug-free, and virtually painless.

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40 weeks +3 (the day before I gave birth)